Giants ducked Penn State coach to keep Saquon Barkley secret

It was no secret Giants general manager Dave Gettleman was enamored with Penn State running back Saquon Barkley heading into the draft. But according to Nittany Lions coach James Franklin, Gettleman did at least try to keep it a secret.

Franklin said Gettleman stopped talking to him in an effort to throw other teams off the scent.

“There comes a point where they don’t wanna talk to you too much, cause they pretty much already made up their mind,” Franklin said Tuesday at a Penn State event in Manhattan. “If this guy’s available at this pick, they’re gonna take him. So I think at some point, they stop talking because they don’t want to give [it] away. If I’m talking to the media and telling the media, ‘Well yeah, the Giants keep calling,’ then that obviously lets other teams know what the Giants are planning on doing.”

Gettleman himself didn’t do a great job hiding his fondness for Barkley, at one point stating, “He’s one of those guys that my mother could have scouted.”

The secret was not well kept, considering most draft experts projected the Giants taking Barkley with the second pick. That was just fine with a jubilant Gettleman — who, after selecting the running back with the second-overall pick, said Barkley was “touched by the hand of God.”

At times last season, it seemed that way. Barkley broke onto the scene early in the year with 358 all-purpose yards at Iowa and a three-touchdown game against Michigan. He finished with 1,271 rushing yards and 632 receiving yards, earning status as one of the most coveted running back prospects in recent memory.

When draft night came, Franklin had just one request for Barkley: a hug.

“On the ‘Hey Rookie [Welcome to the NFL]’ show, [Barkley] made the comment, ‘I can’t hug everybody. They’re gonna need me to get up there,’ ” Franklin said. “And I said, ‘Just so we’re clear, you’re hugging me.’ ”

Franklin was sitting with Barkley’s parents when the Giants called, making it impossible to ignore the demand. Now, despite calling Barkley as talented as anyone he ever has coached, Franklin doesn’t hesitate to say the running back still has room to grow.

“I think obviously all collegiate players that are just entering the NFL have everything to work on,” Franklin said. “I mean, obviously, he’s been very successful and played at a high level and played in a high-level conference and all those types of things, but yeah, I mean, the transition from high school to college is dramatic, and the transition from college to the NFL may be even more dramatic.

“So, every aspect of his game, he’s gonna have to work on and improve, but I do think he’s got a NFL-ready body and I think he’s been very mature in his approach to the game. … But I also know that he’s not one of these guys that feels like he’s arrived. He feels like this is only the beginning for him.”

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